University of Hawaii Innovation Initiative

Big Man on Campus

By UH Team

For Edward DeLong, good things come in small packages—very good and very small. DeLong, a professor of Biological Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a member of the National Academy of Sciences, studies the biology, ecology and evolution of marine microbes. He uses some of the latest technologies, such as genome sequencing, in his work to learn how ecologically critical yet unseen microbial processes work to sustain ecosystems, particularly those found in the ocean.

His research could go a long way in explaining how the world works. It could have potential applications in solving some of the world’s biggest challenges, everything from energy generation to recycling to sustainable, “green” industrial processes.

“Microbes can perform almost any chemical reaction that is possible, quickly and efficiently. They generate the energy and matter that sustains the food chain. They’re also able to eat and recycle all kinds of substances, which regenerates nutrients and detoxifies noxious compounds,” says DeLong. “Basically, they are naturally occurring, tiny chemical factories that help recycle things that we don’t want, as well as synthesize useful products that we do.”

DeLong’s research has taken him to locations across the globe, but he says that Hawai‘i is the best place in the world to study open-ocean ecosystems. He has collaborated with colleagues at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa for more than two decades.

FIRST RECRUIT: Edward DeLong, a professor of Biological Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a member of the National Academy of Sciences, is the first researcher to be recruited under HI2. Photo by Anthony Consillio

FIRST RECRUIT: Edward DeLong, a professor of Biological Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a member of the National Academy of Sciences, is the first researcher to be recruited under HI2. Photo by Anthony Consillio

It’s a collaboration that has grown closer over the years. Seven years ago, he became the co-director and research coordinator at Manoa’s Center for Microbial Oceanography: Research and Education (C-MORE). In the fall of 2014, DeLong will relocate to the Islands, becoming the first researcher recruited under the University of Hawai‘i Innovation Initiative (HI2), the university’s coordinated effort to attract and develop 50 world-class researchers and to double outside funding from $500 million to $1 billion per year.

C-MORE’s director, David Karl, one of UH’s most prolific researchers and also a member of the National Academy of Sciences, says, “Ed DeLong will be a great addition to the UH ohana. Now we will be able to collaborate daily, exchange ideas in the hallways and on walks across campus, and plan new and exciting laboratory and field experiments. I am excited about learning from the master, and feel like a student all over again.”

Currently, C-MORE has research funding of approximately $4 million per year over 10 years. DeLong hopes to continue that level of funding for an additional 10 years. He expects to bring along only one or two of his staff, so he says that he will be “going local” when he moves his lab.

“I knew that if I was lucky enough to get an opportunity (to work at UH), I would go for it,” says DeLong. “I’ve already had such great interactions with my colleagues here at UH over the years. And the innovation initiative presents even more exciting opportunities. UH is already a great place, and the initiative could really accelerate the research enterprise even more, especially in cutting-edge science and technologies that society needs today.” —DKC

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